By Kris Smith
The Dundee Stars forward joined the English club for a month-long mini-series that saw the first topflight ice hockey action since March 2020.
Nottingham and Sheffield along with Coventry Blaze and Manchester Storm competed to win the Elite Series – a 12 game round robin tournament and playoff competition – that allowed mostly British players to get some ice time in before the new season and this month’s World Championships.
After sitting bottom of the standings halfway through the 12 game regular season, the Panthers rallied together and got off the bottom to claim a third-place seeding for the playoffs.
There they met the second-seeds Coventry and dispatched them with a 6-1 aggregate win over two legs.
In a best of three series, they then met their biggest rivals but swept the Steelers in two straight games, winning 5-3 and 5-2.
Garrigan played in 13 of the 16 games, including every playoff match and after getting his hands on the trophy he said: “It was an amazing feeling to lift that trophy, it has been a long time since I have been part of a winning team.
“It felt good also because everyone in the team was away from home for five weeks, so everyone had to make sacrifices to be there and to live in a hotel in our own bubble.
“Also, to be able to play competitive hockey in the middle of lockdown and to win a one of a kind series makes it that bit better.
“You also see the great rivalry between Nottingham and Sheffield, so to be able to be a part of that and to win it against Sheffield was a great feeling.”
Garrigan then explained how much this unique series has offered him and what he learned from the experience.
“It was a great experience to play for a big team like Nottingham and to play alongside new teammates”, he said.
Craig continued: “To be able to play hockey again after so long off, I am really grateful for that.
“The main reason they introduced this series was to get British players back on the ice and I feel that it has been really beneficial for myself after having a such a long time out.”
With Nottingham winning exactly half of the 12 round-robin games, the team bounced-back at just the right time to set up their winning run and halfway through the tournament, Garrigan stated the team had what it takes to win the entire series.
Sharing more about what made Nottingham capable of such success, Craig added: “We had a team full of guys that wanted to win, everyone went to war for each other every time we stepped on the ice.
“We did not start the series the way we wanted, we were not getting results and that ultimately led us to being bottom of the table for the first half.
“As the series went on, we all played that bit better every game and we started getting better results then going on to winning our last six games and onto winning the cup.
“Our turning point was when we were struggling so we changed a couple systems and worked on it and it seemed to click well.
“From then on we seemed to get better with every game we played.
“When it came to playing Coventry and Sheffield we knew we had to play good defensively to shut down their top scorers and we done a great job of doing that.
“It is not about how you start it is how you finish, and I feel like we showed that.”
The Scot also has two years of normal Elite League experience from playing with the Stars and comparing the normal season to the mini-series, Craig said: “It was great, it felt like I was back in a regular hockey season again.
“In terms of how competitive it was there was no difference, every time you put on that hockey jersey you want to win, no one wants to be the loser.
“The only difference was that there were more British players in each team which is a great thing.
“You saw a lot of Brit players step up and prove that they can play more and play alongside or against big time players.”
(Banner Picture: Dean Wooley).